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Puvan Selvanathan resigns from UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights, calling for a binding treaty

Picture by Eric Bridiers

Puvan Selvanathan has resigned from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, where he has been working since 2011. In an open letter to J. Rücker, current President of the Human Rights Council, Selvanathan calls for a legally-binding treaty on business and human rights. He states “I believe that if a business can operate ‘legally’ yet impact negatively on human rights then that is a simple failure of a state’s duties. […] I suggest that if states wish for businesses to respect human rights then what that constitutes must be made mandatory. […] The loudest calls within a company for higher goals are distant echoes if even a whisper for profit exists. […] Companies are our own social creations and reflect our own values. They are defined by the rules that we choose to lay down.”

December 16, 2015 | Puvan Selvanathan

Open letter from Puvan Selvanathan to President of the UN Human Rights Council


I write to inform you of my resignation from the Working Group of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Businessses. I have recently accepted a UN staff position.

This is an open letter, wrtitten as a courtesy and with thanks to all those who have heloed me in my time as a mandate-holder since 2011.

I joined fellow mandate holders in issuing a statement last week “As the Covenants turn 50, it is time to turn norms into action”. In that statement we highlighted that many good things have happened since adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights by the UN in 1966 - yet “human rights remain under severe threat” for a variety of reasons, the most significant being the apparent inability of “States to live-up to their duty to respect human rights”

Under this umbrella, Excellency, please allow me to address specifically the matter of business and human rights, the theme of my own mandate, and offer three opinions which member states who steward this agenda might consider:

  1. That member states set a bad example for business on human rights.
  2. That business is profit-orientated and must adhere to laws, but not norms.
  3. That the UN is bipolar in dealing with human rights and businesses

Read the full letter here.

P. Selvanathan expressed his support for a binding treaty already at a discussion at the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics in September 2014. Read the report on the discussion “The Business and Human Rights Treaty Debeate: Is Now the Time?”


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